Which Haruki Murakami Book Should You Read First? Here's A Guide To His Most Famous Works
Ah, the age old literary question: "Which Murakami book should I start with?" I've been asked this question many, many times. Even if you haven't read any of Haruki Murakami's work, you've likely heard of him. The Japanese author is a superstar in Japan, an international literary icon, and a perpetual contender for the Nobel Prize. He's published over 20 books, many of which have been translated into English. But as far as which book to read first, here's the thing: the answer really depends on you.
My first Murakami book was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I'm embarrassed to admit I picked up because a guy I had a crush on recommended it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The night I finished, I called him as I paced the sidewalk in front of my dormitory building. I felt like I was bursting with things to say about the book, but I couldn't put my ideas into words. I can only compare the experience to that of waking up from a really intricate dream and then attempting to explain it to someone.
And that's what I think is so great about Murakami's books. You don't have to understand them to be affected by them. They pull you into worlds that have their own logic, and (as in dreams) that logic becomes a part of you. Even his books that don't have any magic in them have a characteristically intimate and ethereal feel to them. It's an incredible experience, that every reader should try.
So, if you haven't read any Murakami and are looking for a good place to start, here's a guide for which book to read first.
If You're Willing To Suspend Your Disbelief, Try 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle'
If you love to suspend your disbelief (I certainly do), start with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It reads like an intense dream. Any plot summary will be inadequate, but here it goes: as a man searches through Tokyo for his wife's missing cat, he stumbles into a dark netherworld that has earthly consequences.
If You Love A Tragic Romance, Try 'Norwegian Wood'
OK, so maybe you're not so into that surrealist stuff, but you love a good coming-of-age and less-than-happy romance. Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru Watanabe, a college freshman in Tokyo, grappling with his feelings for a woman who has isolated herself, tortured by her tragic past. This coming-of-age story will make you feel like you've reverted back to your high school self.
If You Love Magical Realism, Try 'Kafka on the Shore'
If you like a book that intertwines multiple storylines, give this book a shot. It's got a huge helping of magical realism (including talking cats and fish falling from the sky), and a story that will snap your attention. The story follows Kafka Tamura, a 15-year-old who has just run away from home to live in a library. Meanwhile, Nakata, an old man who suffered brain damage as a child and can now talk to cats, goes on an unexpectedly dark journey while on a hunt for a missing cat.
If You Love Short Stories, Try 'The Elephant Vanishes: Stories'
If you love short stories, or you want to just dip your toes in to Murakami's world without committing to a whole novel, this collection is for you. Filled with stories that are both emotional and bizarre and zany and romantic, this collection is a great cross-section of Murakami's style.
If You Love Thrillers, Try 'A Wild Sheep Chase'
If you love yourself a literary thriller, this surreal adventure will light your fire. When an advertising executive appropriates an image for a campaign, he doesn't realize that it contains a mutant sheep. Suddenly, a mysterious man in black is giving him a choice: "Find the sheep, or face dire consequences."
If You Love Writing Memoirs, Try 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running'
If you're a die-hard nonfiction reader, there's still a Murakami book for you—this one! Despite the title, this isn't just a memoir about running. In this meditative rumination, the author dives into his relationship with running, and examines how it affects him and his writing.
If You Love Short Novels, Try 'Wind/Pinball'
Love a short read? This book is actually two novellas, so you can read one or read both. Hear the Wind Sing is a quick story about a man named Boku trying to figure out how he lost his youth. Pinball, 1973 is its sequel.
If You're A 'Go Big Or Go Home' Type Of Person, Try '1Q84'
Honestly, I wouldn't recommend starting with this one, because it's a whopping 1,053 pages long. But if you're a "go big or go home" kind of reader, give it a shot. Set in Tokyo in 1984, this reality-bending story follows two characters: Aomame, who realizes she has entered a parallel universe, and Tengo, an aspiring writer who takes on a strange ghostwriting project.